12. First Draft - avoid the four most common new novelist mistakes

Now, it’s been a long journey already but we’re finally ready to start a first draft. If you’ve completed all your planning well, this first draft should take a fraction of the time it would without the planning, and will also be as tight as a third draft of an unplanned manuscript.

By following the blocking from the previous step and referring to your character viewpoints, location and plot notes, you should fly through the first draft.

Here are the four worst new novelist mistakes, try to avoid them in your first draft!

1. Too many adverbs

Overuse (many creative writing tutors say any use at all is overuse) of adverbs will scream amateur louder than anything else.

In case you don't know, adverbs and words which modify (if you don't know what modify means you should probably consider switching to photography) a noun. They often end in 'ly'.

 ·        He said, knowingly.
·         She dropped the knife, meaningfully.

The problem with adverbs is that they are often redundant, re-stating something that is obvious from the dialogue or verb. And if it's not obvious in the dialogue or verb - why isn't it?

Adverbs are often a marker of lazy description, and showing, not telling (see next mistake).

They’re also a key indicator for weak verbs. You can think of the ly as a crutch.

For example:
 He walked weakly to the door.

Might be replaced by:
He stumbled to the door.

2. Telling not showing

If you haven't heard this yet, brace yourself. It's the mantra of creative writing teachers everywhere. 

It's very common for new writers to try to explain things to their readers, as a kind of omnipotent narrator, rather than allowing the reader to experience everything themselves through the protagonist's senses.

For example, if you tell me that:
Martin Cousins was a very dangerous man.

I'll be yawning before you get to the next sentence. So what? And anyway, so you say.

However, if you say that:
Martin's knife sliced through the soft flesh of his latest victim.

Then the point is made vividly and we might even have a shiver of fear. Also, we're not being preached at; we're observing the cold, hard facts with our own eyes.

3. Overly formal dialogue

The main problem with natural dialogue in fiction is that it's nothing like natural dialogue in real life. If an author did put genuinely genuine sounding dialogue into their work, readers would be bored silly, because normal speech is full of half-finished sentences, interruption, meandering and assumed knowledge.

So fictional dialogue needs to be much more succinct, with clear direction and eloquence, but to still give the impression of being natural.

Some tips to making speech sound less formal is to use fillers (well, umm, I guess), pauses, interruptions and contractions (do not = don't, I will = I'll).

4. As you know, Bob

This is the common phenomena of writers using a character to explain a plot point to another character who already knows it.

To take an unlikely example, let's say knowing the ingredients of a Screwdriver is critical to the story. 
The amateur writer might decide to have two barmen, one of whom says something along the lines of:
'Well, as you know Nick, a screwdriver is a mix of vodka and orange juice.'

If Nick already knows it, why is his colleague telling him something so obvious? 

That's what the readers will be saying anyway. It comes across as wooden, and it's lazy. And it's just a sneaky way of telling (see above).

Characters should never say anything that the person they're talking to knows already. This isn't to say a character can never explain a plot point, just make sure they are telling it to someone who genuinely wants and needs to know.

First draft complete! Now you can go onto step 13. The Second Draft.

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